It’s fall and for us that means, turning over our streetscape and setting the scene for cooler temperatures.
Those beautiful flower baskets that Team 10 have been diligently watering with sweat and tears all summer have died back, and it was time to replace them with fall plantings.
Our belts are tightening just like everyone else, and so we have to come up with some creative ways of getting things done. Luckily, we are blessed with some great partners, who are more than happy to get their hands dirty.
In early September, we hosted College of Saint Rose’s “Reach Out Saint” Rose Day, welcoming 16 students to the Avenue to help us with landscaping and clean-up. It was truly inspiring to see how much can be accomplished when hundreds of students donate their time and energy to good causes. Students fanned out into the community, and Central Avenue not-for-profits were lucky enough to receive several bus loads of help. The students who came to our location pitched in with gusto, planting nearly 80 mums around tree beds on Lower Central Avenue. They worked in small teams, divvying up the beds and making short work of it. Many said they had gardened before, but some were completely new to it, and we enjoyed showing them how to weed (“pull up by the roots, and shake the dirt free”) plant (“pull the plant out of the pot, and loosen up the tangled roots so they can stretch out”) and mulch (“spread a thin layer over the whole bed, don’t let it come up too high on the trunk of the tree”). At the end of the day, they climbed back on the shuttle buses dirty, but satisfied.
In fact, the event was so much fun, that when the International Center for the Capital Region reached out to us to see about hosting a visit from a Polish delegation, I asked, “Do you think they’d want to plant some mums?”
And they did.
A lot of mums.
Gardening, it turns out, is an international language.
This time, we were the ones who were getting a lesson. We worked side-by-side with the group, laboring under their patient tutelage and enjoying their jokes and laughter. From simple shortcuts (Scoop the mulch with an empty flower container instead of your hands–duh!) to entirely new techniques (Put a little mulch into the bottom of the hole before you put the plant in to give the roots room to breath), this group had knowledge to impart, and they did it with such a sense of camraderie, that it made the whole experience fun. At the end, one of them joked that he would have to return the following year to help us again. “Between the airfare and hotels, it will be the most expensive planting you’ve ever done,” he said with a laugh.
The following week, we got together with a group of youth from the Equinox Youth Outreach program. Each year, we do two beautification projects with Equinox; in the spring, they help us clean up lower Central and plant flowers in Townsend Park, and in the fall, they help us plant mums and lay mulch. We’ve gotten to know the students pretty well over the years, and there’s usually some familiar faces. But not this year. I didn’t recognize any of the students, and most said they’d never done any planting before. In spite of that, they dug in with enthusiasm, and soon settled into a steady hum of work. Some quick instructions here and there were generously passed along to other students, and as we worked, they became steadily more confident in their tasks. One person’s tentative pokes with a shovel turned steadily into more certain productive movements. Another student tried a few different tools before settling in with a rake, moving mulch back and forth across the beds with admirable seriousness. Another student took up the broom. He waited patiently until we were done planting, and then cleaned up the sidewalk with an attention to detail that none of our previous groups had shown. He tidied up the sidewalk with a few deft movements and then, carefully edged each bed so that it had tight, sharp edges that made the flowers inside pop.
Altogether, three community groups planted over 200 mums in 25 tree wells. These plantings make such a difference in how the Avenue looks–and feels. What I see, when I walk past them, is how much care and laughter went into each bed. The volunteers–VOLUNTEERS!–who did this work, cared about what they were doing and they made it fun for all of us.
Creative partnerships like this don’t just make our work possible, they make it rewarding. They turn routine tasks into learning opportunities, into cultural exchanges, into a chance to make new friends and receive unexpected gifts. Thank you so much to the groups that helped beautify Central Avenue, and made turning over the season into a joyful occasion.